England fell one win short of its goal of reaching the World Cup final, surrendering a 1-0 lead in Wednesday's semifinal against Croatia. The Croatians rallied from behind to win 2-1 in extra time thanks to a goal from Mario Mandzukic. Croatia's dream continues into Sunday's final against France. Croatia, with one of the smallest population in this tournament at 4.171 million, is off to the World Cup final for the first time in team history. Before this, Croatia's best finish was third place in France 1998, its first-ever World Cup appearance.
With Croatia playing in its third consecutive extra time match, the team somehow dug deep and found the energy needed to fight off the Three Lions, who looked more tired and fell asleep on the winning goal.
A goal in the second half from Ivan Perisic forced extra time, and Mandzukic's strike destroyed England's dream run short, as a team that surpassed expectations and has a bright future failed to really play well after the break. Croatia controlled the ball in the middle, and the experience showed, as it out-shot England 22-11 and completed over 100 passes more in the match.
Croatia was forced to overcome a poor start to the match after England took the lead in the opening minutes on a beautiful goal from Kevin Trippier off a set piece:
But Ivan Perisic brought things level in the 68th minute with a lovely finish off a cross, getting ahead of Kyle Walker at the last second:
Croatia took over the match after the equalizer and England rarely produced any scoring threats the rest of the way as the midfield of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic had the Three Lions running in circles. The injuries started to pile up, legs looked gassed and the opportunity to seal it became reality for Mandzukic, who sneaked behind the back of England defender John Stones to score the winner. The young, 24-year-old Stones should have done better to clear the ball out of danger, but he fell asleep and the striker made him and his entire team pay:
The victory is historic for Croatia, the second smallest nation to make the World Cup final after Uruguay, but it's no fluke. The team is filled with stars from top to bottom, and the teamwork and determination has set this team apart from the rest. Meanwhile, England will face Belgium on Saturday in the third-place match.
For Croatia, it's on the brink of arguably the most shocking World Cup title run in modern history.